Book Review: In Quest of the Historical Adam


Editor’s Note: The London Lyceum seeks to publish book reviews by experts in their field of research for the purpose of inspiring thinking. Therefore, not all reviews and/or reviewers will hold to our confessional commitments. Wherein they depart from the Second London Confession of Faith we disagree. But as with all our work, we publish a range of viewpoints to encourage thinking.


In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration. By William Lane Craig. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021. 439 pages. Paperback. $38.00.

William Lane Craig is professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, and he is a visiting scholar at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy under the tutelage of John Hick at the University of Birmingham, and he earned a D.Theol. at the University of Munich under the supervision of Wolfhart Pannenberg. He is well known for his many published works on various topics in philosophy, theology, and apologetics. He is particularly known for his scholarly work on the kalām cosmological argument, the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, the philosophy of time and God’s relationship to time, Molinism, and—more recently—the problem of God and abstract objects. He has authored or edited more than forty books, and nearly 200 of his scholarly papers have been published in professional journals of philosophy and/or theology, including The Journal of Philosophy, Faith and Philosophy, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, New Testament Studies, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophy, Philosophical Studies, British Journal for Philosophy of Science, and Philosophia Christi. He also has served on the executive committee for the Society of Christian Philosophers (1997-2000), and he was the President (1996-2005) and Vice President (1995-1996) of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. His apologetics ministry, Reasonable Faith,[1] offers thousands of free online resources for Christians to read, watch, and learn from to aid them in defending their faith in Christ and sharing the gospel with non-Christians.

Summary of the Book

In recent years, Craig has turned his attention to the question of the historical Adam: Was Adam, as depicted in Scripture, a historical being? Were Adam and Eve the original human pair, the progenitors of humanity? Many non-Christians, and some Christians, argue in the negative, claiming that science has disproven that humanity came from an original human pair. Other Christians leave a question mark next to the historical Adam, claiming that such a historical figure is possible, but that Scripture and science are underdetermined on the subject. Some Christians affirm that there was a historical Adam, but then they claim that his historical existence is inconsequential to the Christian faith. Others affirm that Adam was indeed a historical person and that the historical Adam is essential to the Christian faith. Craig falls into this last camp and he defends his view in this thorough apologetic work. In it, not only does he argue for Adam’s existence in history, but also his essential role in the Christian faith. For if there is no real Adam, then Christians cannot claim to have a trustworthy Bible nor to worship a divine Christ—since both clearly teach that there was one. So, Craig argues, the historical Adam is a foundational belief for the Christian faith (3-31).

Craig divides the book into four parts: The Importance of the Historical Adam (chapter 1), Biblical Data Concerning the Historical Adam (chapters 2-7), Scientific Evidence and the Historical Adam (chapters 8-12), and Reflections on the Historical Adam (chapter 13). Craig highlights the following in the Preface:

The book comprises two principal parts with some introductory remarks and closing reflections. The first main part deals with the biblical data pertinent to human origins and the second with scientific evidence for the same. The order of the two parts is important. We want first and foremost as Christians to know what the Bible has to say about human origins independent of modern science. We want to know what our biblical commitments are concerning the historical Adam, and we can know those only insofar as our hermeneutical approach to Scripture is not shaped by modern science. After all, if biblical teaching is at odds with the deliverances of modern science, then we want to know that and act accordingly. In light of our study of Scripture, only then do I turn to an examination of the deliverances of modern science to see if the findings of modern science are compatible with the historicity of Adam and Eve (xii; italics added).

Many people will likely allege (and some indeed have) that Craig has attempted to compromise Scripture’s teaching in order to “make it fit” with modern science. According to Craig, however, this is not the case. If we are to be charitable readers, and I think that—especially as Christians—we should be, then we should take Craig at his word in the quoted paragraph. He intends first to see what Scripture itself has to say on the issue of human origins, and only then is he interested in seeing what modern science has to say. Throughout the book, Craig does not argue that his conclusions are definitively the case; rather, he argues that they are a plausible way of squaring what the Bible teaches with the findings of contemporary science. First and foremost, Craig intends to submit to Scripture’s teaching on the matter.

After discussing what is at stake, Craig turns his attention to the biblical data pertaining to the question of human origins. The majority of the book, approximately 2/3 of it, is dedicated to this subject. As he previously noted, Craig cares first and foremost about what Scripture teaches about human origins. In order to accomplish this task, he approaches the pertinent texts, namely Genesis 1-11, with a rigorous grammatical-historical hermeneutic, though he also uses some items from the historical-critical hermeneutic. He utilizes elements of a canonical hermeneutic when focusing on the New Testament’s teaching about the historical Adam as well. In order of priority, he seems to focus utilize the grammatical-historical, the canonical, and then some elements of the historical-critical approach. He begins by inquiring into the genre of literature that Gen 1-11 exemplifies, noting that biblical scholars, for centuries, have argued that Gen 1-11 seems to be a distinct literary genre different from Gen 12-50. Many have contended that Gen 1-11 has many similarities to other ancient near Eastern (ANE) myths, many even concluding that Gen 1-11 should be categorized as myth. Craig then asks two questions of crucial importance: 1) Are the narratives contained in Gen 1-11 just compilations of ancient Israelite myths, and 2) What is myth?

In order to better determine the answer to (1), Craig takes up answering (2) first. After noting that “Originally, the Greek word mythos meant simply a story, though it eventually came to designate specifically stories about gods” (35). However, these alleged myths vary to such an extent that it is likely not plausible to provide a minimal definition of what a myth is. Rather, one should look for family resemblances. After his analysis of well-known myths, Craig derives the following 10 family resemblances that seem common to all of them.

  1. Myths are narratives, whether oral or literary.
  2. Myths are traditional stories handed down from generation to generation.
  3. Myths are sacred for the society that embraces them.
  4. Myths are objects of belief by members of the society that embraces them.
  5. Myths are set in a primaeval age or another realm.
  6. Myths are stories in which deities are important characters.
  7. Myths seek to anchor present realities such as the world, mankind, natural phenomena, cultural practices, and the prevailing cult in a primordial time.
  8. Myths are associated with rituals.
  9. Myths express correspondences between the deities and nature.
  10. Myths exhibit fantastic elements and are not troubled by logical contradiction or incoherence (45-56).

Craig then spends chapters 3 and 4 analyzing Gen 1-11 and evaluating whether or not they foster any of these ten family resemblances. He concludes this analysis stating:

In summation, the narratives of Gen 1-11 exhibit, sometimes dramatically, the family resemblances that mark the folklorist’s genre of myth. They are traditional, sacred narratives set in a primaeval age, featuring a deity as a central character, that seek to anchor realities present to the Pentateuchal author in a primordial time. Sometimes fantastic, but untroubled by inconsistencies, they were objects of belief for ancient Israelites (131).

More should be said on this last sentence from Craig’s conclusion. By “fantastic elements,” he means “those which, if taken literally, are so extraordinary as to be palpably false” (104-05). However, Craig does not consider miracles to be fantastic elements. Miracles refer to abnormal events involving direct divine action from God on creation. These events are abnormal in that they do not follow the usual order of things in the universe, what some prefer to call the laws of nature. Craig goes to painstaking lengths to stave off naturalism, the belief that the physical universe and the physical laws that govern it are all that exist (105-06). Naturalism precludes the existence of God and any sort of divine intervention in the universe. Craig obviously rejects both of these. What we see in Gen 1-11, however, are happenings that are neither the result of direct divine intervention nor consistent with the usual order of things in the universe. These are what Craig specifically has in mind when describing “fantastic elements.” Such elements include talking snakes, creating the earth in six 24-hour days, a global flood, universal vegetarianism, trees that bear magical fruit, and other items of the like (109-31). He is not alone in deeming these elements “fantastic,” as his ample footnotes highlight, many other evangelical biblical scholars make similar, if not the same, affirmations. So, Craig concludes, Gen 1-11 does exemplify these family resemblances—though they only exemplify eight of the ten.

However, Gen 1-11 does not only exemplify these mythical family resemblances; these chapters also demonstrate a real concern for historicity. Specifically, according to Craig, the genealogies that permeate these chapters demonstrate a real interest in history (132-51). Though these genealogies indicate historical interest on behalf of Genesis’s author, they do not relate “straightforward history” (151). Drawing from the work of Old-Testament scholar Kenneth Mathews, Craig claims that “the genealogies serve the theological purpose of showing the interconnectedness of all mankind and the hope of universal blessing” (151). So, though Gen 1-11 exhibits the family resemblances of myth, it also exhibits real historical interest. Craig concludes that the most plausible candidate for the genre of Gen 1-11 is mytho-history. Mytho-history is a genre of literature portraying narratives with actual historical anchorings through the medium of myth. Craig notes a great example of a well-known mytho-history is “Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad” (153). While the Iliad clearly is portraying an event that happened in history, Homer tells the story through the framework of myth. Gen 1-11 is a similar literary work. There are real historical persons and events present in the narratives, but the narratives are communicated through the framework of myth. This does not mean, however, that one can always discern the mythical from the historical. Rather, the mythical and historical elements do not go together like two different colors of marbles in a bag, wherein one can pick out blue marbles from green marbles; rather, these mythical and historical elements go together like coffee and creamer—they are fused together in such a way that they cannot be pulled apart. As a result, readers should aim to interpret Gen 1-11 as mytho-history rather than straightforward history. One should note that other notable evangelical biblical scholars classify Gen 1-11 in similar fashion, namely Gordon Wenham, C. John Collins, and Bill T. Arnold. Wenham prefers the term “proto-history,” due to the negative connotations that “myth” often brings, especially in light of many Enlightenment thinkers’ classification of Gen 1-11 as simply myth (154-55). Collins similarly resists the term “myth” in favor of “worldview story” (156), and for similar reasons as Wenham. Arnold, however, maintains the term “mytho-history,” claiming “The literary genre ‘mytho-historical’ in no way identifies these chapters as myths or mythical, but rather draws attention to the way in which themes previously regarded simply as mythological are arranged along an historical time line using cause and effect” (157).[2] Craig’s claim that Gen 1-11 is mytho-history is not unique to him, but acknowledged by other prominent evangelical biblical scholars as these mentioned.

Though Gen 1-11 is mytho-history, it is still to be believed (158-203). But this raises the question of what it means for a mytho-history to be true. This is where the “plasticity and flexibility of myths” is helpful (165). Not all truth is necessarily literal truth; there are plenty of truths that are communicated metaphorically and/or figuratively (161). The question should then be “What truths does the author of this text intend to communicate through their preferred framework of communication?” Since the framework for Gen 1-11 is mytho-history, then it is unlikely that the author is trying to communicate literal truth, which means that readers are not obligated to interpret the text for literal truth. The truths that the author of Gen 1-11 seems to intend to communicate through this mytho-history are likely metaphorical or figurative theological truths rather than literal historical truths, much like Homer does in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The question for interpreting Gen 1-11 should then be, “What is the fundamental truth being communicated in these narratives?”. After providing a trenchant analysis of how various other ANE myths aim to communicate non-literal truth, Craig then looks at the application of this analysis to Gen 1-11. He comes up with a list of ten fundamental truths that should be discerned from these chapters (202).

  1. God is one, a personal, transcendent Creator of all physical reality, perfectly good and worthy of worship.
  2. God has designed the physical world and is the ultimate source of its structure and life-forms.
  3. Man is the pinnacle of the physical creation, a personal, if finite, agent like God, and therefore uniquely capable of all Earth’s creatures of knowing God.
  4. Mankind is gendered, man and woman being of equal value, with marriage given to mankind for procreation and mutuality, the wife being a helper to her husband.
  5. Work is good, a sacred assignment by God to mankind to steward the earth and its creatures.
  6. Human exploration and discovery of the workings of nature are a natural outgrowth of man’s capacities, rather than divine bestowals without human initiative and effort.
  7. Mankind is to set apart one day per week as sacred and for refreshment from work.
  8. Man and woman alike have freely chosen to disobey God, suffering alienation from God and spiritual death as their just desert, condemned to a life of hardship and suffering during this mortal existence.
  9. Human sin is agglomerative and self-destructive, resulting in God’s just judgment.
  10. Despite human rebellion against God, God’s original purpose to bless all mankind remains intact, as he graciously finds a way to work his will despite human defiance.

Craig notes that these ten items are not the only fundamental truths one should glean from Gen 1-11 but are only a few of them (202). He provides this helpful summary statement of his project up to this point, and it is worth quoting at length.

Genesis 1-11 exhibits quite a number of the family resemblances characteristic of myths, especially the prominent and abundant presence of etiological motifs. At the same time, the chapters’ interest in history, most evident in their genealogical notices that chronologically order the narratives, reveals that we are dealing here, not with pure myth, but with a sort of mytho-history. Comparative studies of both contemporary and ANE myths show that mythological stories need not be read literalistically. The many fantastic elements and inconsistencies of the primaeval history of Gen 1-11 strongly suggest that this is also the case for these chapters (202-03).

Craig then turns his attention to the historical Adam in the New Testament in chapter seven. He begins by immediately showing his cards as to his thoughts on whether the NT treats Adam as a historical or merely literary figure: “It is noteworthy that despite the various theological uses to which Adam is put, all the texts concur in assuming Adam to be a historical person, the first human being to be created” (204). The NT is very much concerned with the historical Adam, not just the literary Adam. By “literary Adam,” Craig is referring to “a character in a story, specifically the stories of Gen 2 – 3” (206). This is distinguished from the historical Adam, “who actually existed, the actual individual that the stories are allegedly about” (206-207). Many biblical scholars, he notes, argue that the NT authors are only interested in the former rather than the latter. Many even leave a question mark next to the question of how much the literary Adam resembles the historical. Craig also rightly notes that the questions surrounding the literary and historical Adam bring up the “distinction between truth and truth-in-a-story” (207; italics original). A proposition is true if it accurately states what is the case. A proposition is true in a story if and only if “it is found in or implied by that story” (207). This leads Craig to probe the following question: Are the NT passages relevant to the figure of Adam “intended to assert truths or merely truths-in-the-stories of Genesis” (207)? He then quickly moves to dismiss the idea that Paul and Jesus were only ever interested in the literary Adam (207ff). The real question becomes whether or not Paul and the other NT authors teach “that the literary Adam accurately describes the historical Adam (and if so, whether that belief was true)” (207). This leads Craig to make his final important distinction for this chapter, the distinction between using texts illustratively vs assertorically. To do the former, one merely uses a text to make an illustrative point. Such a use does not commit the one using the text to the actual truth of the text. An example of this might be Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus tells this story to illustrate a point; he is not committed to the belief of the factual truth of the story, i.e. the historicity of the story’s events, characters, etc. To use a text assertorically, one teaches the text as though what it asserts is truth, “not merely truth-in-a-text” (209). An example of this is when Jesus teaches that he is one with the Father.

Though the NT uses a number of literary figures in its pages, e.g. those in Jude and 2 Peter, its usages of Adam do not seem to be one of these. In the cases of those characters used literarily in Jude and 2 Peter, the authors of those texts seem to be using the stories surrounding those characters illustratively rather than assertorically. As a result, “we are not committed to their historicity simply in virtue of an NT author’s relating them” (214). Craig notes that the NT does at times use the stories of Adam illustratively rather than assertorically, such as in 2 Cor 11.3 (222). However, many others, such as the genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s gospel, intends its mentions of Adam to be assertoric (223). Craig then performs a deep-dive study into key NT texts about Adam in Paul’s letters, namely those in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5. He concludes that Paul’s interest in Adam here is not merely literary but historical (239). While Craig discusses other exegetical issues in these texts that pertain to other doctrines that have been classically held, such as the imputation of sinful guilt or a sinful nature, his conclusions on these issues are not pertinent for this review. I have chosen to remain focused on his case for the historical Adam.

Chapter eight begins Part III of the book, which focuses on “Scientific Evidence and the Historical Adam.” This chapter in particular focuses on “scientific and philosophical preliminaries” (245). Since the historical figure of Adam is to some extent cloaked by his appearance in mytho-historical narratives, the answer to the question of when he lived is one that we must now look to modern science, since the biblical passages about Adam do not speculate to this (245). The first step in this part of the project is to “first set the framework for modern science’s treatment of the subject” (245). To do this, Craig takes his reader on a in-depth discussion of issues such as geological timescales and archaeological timescales. He then turns his attention to paleoanthropological classifications (Hominoidea, Hominidae, and Hominins). Craig focuses primarily on hominins, which include “Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and the most well-known, Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthals” (254). He carefully notes that none of these Homo categories “should be equated tout court with the natural kind human being” (254). He also comments that hominins should also include “Australopithecines of various species” (254).

Craig then focuses on answering this question: What is it to be a human being? He distinguishes between what it is to be a person rather than to be a human: “While a self-conscious rational extraterrestrial (or even chimpanzee) would be a person, he would not be a human person (257). He adopts anthropologists Sally McBrearty’s and Alison Brooks’s list of what characteristic traits are unique to human beings. The following list is quoted from Craig (258).

  • abstract thinking, the ability to act with reference to abstract concepts not limited in time or space
  • planning depth, the ability to formulate strategies on the basis of past experience and to act on them in a group context
  • behavioral, economic, and technological innovativeness
  • symbolic behavior, the ability to represent objects, people, and abstract concepts with arbitrary symbols, vocal or visual, and to reify such symbols in cultural practice

Craig also makes the following important note, which is worth quoting at length:

To deny the humanity of past individuals anatomically similar to modern humans who exhibited such behaviors would be problematic because (1) it is implausible to think that such behaviors did not require the cognitive capacities of human beings and (2) to deny the humanity of past individuals exhibiting such behavior would permit on similarly to deny the humanity of people living today who share such behavior, which is not only implausible but morally unconscionable (259).

However, the real task is determining “when such behaviors first appear in the prehistorical record” (259). Such evidence, however, would only show us the latest that this behavior appears in the prehistoric record, not the earliest: “Even if we can, it is useful to remember that signs of such behavior give us only the latest date at which humanity came on the scene, not the earliest, and provide an indication of only the minimum level of cognitive capacity of persons exhibiting that behavior, nor the maximum level of their cognitive ability” (259). Obviously, Homo sapiens demonstrate all of these behaviors, but what about their ancestors? He argues that Homo erectus should serve as out terminus a quo for humanity’s origins, and he argues that the cave art “from the Upper Palaeolithic found, for example, as Lascaux (17 kya [kya = thousand years ago]) and Chauvet (30 kya) in France,” which were obviously painted by human beings, should serve as our terminus ad quem (262-263).

Craig examines the evidence of palaeoneurology for human origins in chapter nine. In palaeoneurology, scientists study the cranial endocasts of prehistoric species. In order to be capable of performing the list of those four behaviors provided by McBrearty and Brooks discussed in the last chapter, a specimen’s brain must be of a certain size. Otherwise, they are not neurologically developed enough to perform such tasks of cognition. Not only this, but these scientists also study the genetic material of these cranial endocasts. In so doing, they are able to trace the developments of the genetic code throughout the development of species. The evidence of palaeoneurology demonstrates, Craig concludes, that—in addition to Homo sapiens—both Neanderthals and Denisovans possessed the neurological capacities that are consistent with humanity (278).

Craig discusses the archaeological evidence in chapters ten and eleven. Continuing to follow McBrearty and Brooks, he provides a list of “‘archaeological signatures of modern human behavior’ that provide ‘tangible traces’ of the four behaviors listed above” (281).

  • Ecological aspects of the record reflect human abilities to colonize new environments, which require both innovation and planning depth.
  • Technological features reveal human inventiveness and capacity for logical thinking.
  • Economic and social features show human abilities to draw models from individual and group experience, to develop and apply systematic plans, to conceptualize and predict the future, and to construct formalized relationships among individuals and groups.
  • Symbolic features demonstrate a capacity to imbue aspects of experience with meaning, to communicate abstract concepts, and to manipulate symbols as a part of everyday life (281).

Craig then begins an in-depth investigation into the various items discovered in palaeoarchaeology to discern whether or not they evidence these characteristics. Such items include tools, paintings, and more. All of these various archaeological finds demonstrate that the four characteristics of humanity go back further than Homo sapiens. Of particular interest to Craig are the hunting spears found “during the mid-1990s . . . at the Lower Palaeolithic site of Schöningen, Germany” (293). These sophisticated spears demonstrate high levels of cognition due to their design. In particular, Craig notes that “The circumference of the first third of each spear is greater, so that it tapers off toward the butt. As a result, most of the weight is forward, to assist in throwing like a javelin” (293). He further notes that “reproductions of the Schöningen spears have been made, and they turn out to be on a par with Olympic javelins” (293)! Such a design demonstrates high levels of cognition. These spears date to the third interglacial period, which was 400-300 kya. He concludes this investigation in chapter eleven, and he claims that the evidence from palaeoneurology, palaeogenetics, and palaeoarchaeology together demonstrate that the four characteristics for humanity by Brearty and Brooks are consistent with Homo heidelbergensis, who seems to have lived around 500 kya. Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens thus have Homo heidelbergensis as a common ancestor (328-329).

In chapter twelve, Craig makes his case that the historical Adam, the progenitor of all humanity, was a member of Homo heidelbergensis. It should be clear at this point that Homo heidelbergensis was no knuckle-dragging animal. No, he was an intelligent species, capable of abstract thinking, planning depth, technological innovativeness, and symbolic behavior (334-335). Craig writes, “Adam, then, may be plausibly identified as a member of Homo heidelbergensis, living perhaps >750kya. He could even have lived in the Near East in the biblical site of the Garden of Eden—though vastly earlier than usually thought, of course. His descendants migrated southward into Africa, where they gave rise to Homo sapiens, and westward into Europe, where they evolved into Neanderthals/Denisovans” (336). Craig addresses several scientific challenges to the thesis that a single pair could serve as the progenitors of the human race, showing such challenges’ ability to be overcome (338-359).

Craig tries to put everything together in chapter thirteen. If Adam and Eve were members of Homo heidelbergensis, then this entails that Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens alike should be considered members of humanity, which means they all would have been endowed with a rational soul and the Image of God (365). Not only this, but their sins also will have been rectified by Christ’s atonement (365). Craig does not believe that a rational soul would have just emerged in Adam via evolution. Rather, God would have miraculously intervened into the evolutionary process to infuse Adam (and Eve) with a rational soul(s) (370ff). All of this research, however, raises the following question: Was Adam a result of evolutionary processes? While Craig frames most of the material in this portion of the book that would suggest so, he is careful to remain ultimately agnostic on the issue. He states, “One can, with Swamidass and Hössjer and Gauger, postulate instead a de novo creation of Adam and Eve” (376n.20). While this view faces some difficulties that need some explanation, it is not incompatible with what Craig is proposing in this book—and he also comments that understanding Adam as emergent from evolutionary process to have challenges as well. The point of this book, he reinforces, is to provide the scientist who might find the alleged obstacles from science to Christian faith problematic a plausible way of bringing biblical teaching and scientific research together. Faith and science need not be enemies.

Critical Analysis

Most books of similar length to Craig’s In Quest of the Historical Adam receive much shorter reviews than this one. However, every now and then, a book comes along that deserves a much longer treatment, such as this one. The reader might even feel slightly annoyed that I have spilt so much ink in merely summarizing the contents of this book. However, I am not without reason for so doing. It is no secret that when this book first released in the fall of 2021, that it made a tremendous splash in the Evangelical world. Some commenters, such as Owen Strachan, were critical of Craig’s project, going so far as to claim that he—Craig—denies the existence of the historical Adam.[3] Others, such as Gavin Ortlund, were sympathetic and appreciative of the book, though they ultimately were disinclined to agree with Craig’s proposal.[4] Many reviews were problematic, demonstrating minimal-to-no engagement with the actual contents of the book’s project. As a result, many would-be readers plausibly have forgone picking up the book due to the misinformation of these reviews pertaining to its actual contents. A good review engages with the actual contents and arguments of a book in order to make an assessment. I wanted to make sure that, at least from the standpoint of this review, that there is no misinformation about the book or its contents for my readers. The church deserves that, and so does this book. Having done so, I think one can see that what Craig offers here is not as awful as some would have them think. Readers may not agree with his conclusions—I’m not sure that I do—but they can at least see for themselves what Craig is arguing for and what he is not.

Let’s start with positive aspects of the book. First, Craig is crystal clear: the Bible and the Bible alone is the ultimate authority for all Christian belief, teaching, and living. As he states in the Preface, the Christian inquiring into the historicity of Adam must begin with the Bible and what the Bible actually teaches. Only after they have engaged with the Bible on its own terms should they then turn their attention to what science has to say on the issue. As Craig demonstrates throughout the book, this is no empty platitude for his Evangelical readership. Two-thirds of the book is dedicated to biblical-genre analysis and biblical exegesis over the pertinent passages. While some might speculate that the direction that his analysis and exegesis take is due to his desire to conform biblical teaching to modern science, such a speculation is both unwarranted and uncharitable. We should take authors at their word when they state their intentions, and only when there is an obvious contortion of the data to fit what may be a preferred theory or hypothesis should we speculate to their actual intentions. So, we should take Craig at his word that he desires first and foremost to be faithful to the biblical teaching. He is to be applauded for this emphasis.

Second, Craig is forthcoming about his not being an OT scholar. As a result, he engages with a plethora of voices in the history of OT scholarship on this issue, many of whom would be considered top voices in the field—John Walton, Gordon Wenham, Bill Arnold, Tremper Longman, and so many more. Not only has he engaged with some of the top scholarship in OT studies, but he has done so likewise with ANE studies. Craig provides helpful surveys of the findings of these disciplines and the most notable arguments being had amongst their scholars. Such discussions not only provide a helpful context for the reader to make sense of the issues being addressed by Craig, but they also show the reader that the conversations surrounding the historical Adam are not new conversations and that biblical scholars, many of whom are Evangelicals, are not always in a consensus as to which explanations of the data are the most plausible. These issues are not straightforward and require careful exegesis of the biblical texts and detailed study of the ANE world to help situate these biblical texts. While Craig himself is not an OT or ANE expert, he has done well with his engagement of the best literature from a spectrum of perspectives on the subject.

Craig identifies the genre of Gen 1-11 as mytho-history, what some scholars, such as Gordon Wenham, have preferred to call “proto-history.” This is perhaps the most contentious claim of Craig’s—at least from an Evangelical perspective. To further clarify, this is not to say that Gen 1-11 is merely a myth. Even if it were, “myth” does not necessarily mean fanciful or that the persons and events portrayed by the myth are unhistorical. I point the reader back to the family characteristics of myths provided above. Presuming that this list is an accurate list of proper characteristic traits of myths, then it does seem that Gen 1-11, at a minimum, has mythical elements. Granted, I am not an OT scholar, and I am aware that this point is debated amongst OT scholars. However, let’s presume that Craig is correct, and that Gen 1-11 is properly characterized as mytho-history; what’s the cost? In other words, what do we lose, that’s of great importance to the faith, if Gen 1-11 is both mythical and historical? First, this does not mean that the events and teachings provided in these texts are false. If we remember, there are two ways for statements about narratives to be true: 1) they correspond to historical-factual reality, or 2) they are true-in-the-story. As noted above, Craig argues that due to the narratives being mytho-history, they exemplify both ways of being true. Some statements in the texts are true-in-the-story, and some are true in that they conform to historical-factual reality. This does not mean that one can always discern what is mythical and what is historical. The contents of Gen 1-11 are not like two colors of marbles in a bag where someone can pick out the marbles of one color and then the marbles of the other color. Rather, myth and history are blended in these texts like coffee and creamer, Craig claims; there is no separating the two once they are mixed.

However, one might plausibly wonder if this last point betrays some of the criteria for locating mythical elements in texts that I provide above. For example, Craig identifies certain aspects of Gen 1-11 as fantastic elements, such as the talking serpent in the Garden. If myth and history are blended like coffee and creamer, then how exactly can we be sure that the talking serpent is indeed a mythical element rather than a historical one? Sure, we do not see talking serpents today, and the texts about the talking serpent in Gen 3 are “palpably false,” but it’s unclear how we should be able to identify this as a mythical element of the story if myth and history are like creamed coffee. Perhaps Craig might comment that, while coffee and creamer cannot be separated after being mixed, the person drinking the mixture can discern distinct flavors of 1) coffee and 2) creamer. Just because the two cannot be separated does not mean that one is completely incapable of all discernment between the two, even in the metaphorical mixture. The implication here is that, though we may not be able to separate myth and history in these texts, we can still discern elements of both in the text, much like our coffee drinker can discern the distinct flavors of both the coffee and the creamer in our analogy. Also, I’m not quite as confident as Craig that items such as talking snakes would have been “fantastic” in the ancient world. While I understand Craig’s motivation here, I’m not yet quite as convinced as he is that the ANE worldview did not allow for such things being the case. It would have been helpful here for Craig to have focused in some on this point, namely demonstrating that such things’ existence would have been absent from the ANE worldview(s). Perhaps he is correct on this point, but I at least need more evidence to be convinced of this.

Craig’s engagement with the evidence from the various scientific paleo disciplines, as far as I can tell, is superb. I am no scientist, but the fact that he has well-known and well-respected scientists, such as Joshua Swamidass, endorsing the book communicates to me that he demonstrates a solid grasp of the material. He communicates the information from the disciplines of palaeoneurology, palaeogenetics, and palaeoarchaeology clearly and effectively. However, in chapter twelve, Craig’s discussion of the genetic challenges against an original human pair seems to presume more expertise of his readers than he realizes. I personally struggled to comprehend most of the material in this section due to my lack of familiarity with it, so I’m unable to comment to its effectiveness. This to say, there are at least some portions of the book where Craig could have slowed down to help his readers better understand some of the scientific information, especially that concerning genetics and palaeogenetics.

I have one main critique of this book. There are a few places where some of Craig’s statements might alienate more readers than necessary. I’m thinking, for example, of his dismissal of the doctrine of original sin early on in the book. While he is correct that a dismissal of the doctrine need not remove the motivation for the doctrine of the atonement, the way that these statements are set up are potentially alienating of his Reformed readers when it need not be. Granted, Craig has maintained longer and more detailed critiques of this doctrine in previous works, so he need not develop an elongated critique of it here. However, it is plausible that many who are likely unfamiliar with these previous works are reading him for the first time when they pick up this book, especially due to its interesting subject. As such, a more tactful way of discussing this issue might have been preferred.

I mentioned this briefly in the summary, but I will bring it up again here. Many will wonder if Craig’s project is an endorsement of a type of theistic evolutionism. While this project is, without doubt, compatible with evolutionary theory, it by no means requires it. Again, it is plausible that Adam both was a member of Homo heidelbergensis, and that God created him de novo from the dust. While this view may face some challenges, it is a plausible alternative for those who see evolutionary theory as a challenge to important biblical doctrines, such as the Image of God. However, Craig goes to great lengths to show that evolution would pose no threat to these doctrines. Even if Adam and Eve were products of the process of evolution, God would still have to miraculously intervene to infuse them with a rational soul. This would not simply be a form of theistic evolution, but a form in which God is intimately involved in providentially guiding the processes of evolution to bring about his desired end, and he still miraculously intervenes in it from time to time. While I do not take a stand on this issue, I grant that it is at least plausible, which is Craig’s ultimate goal in this project: a plausible model for reconciling the biblical teaching concerning human origins with the findings of modern science. Craig’s view of the historical Adam is formidable for both the theistic evolutionist as well as the old-earth creationist. However, it is not compatible with young-earth creationism.

While Craig’s thesis is amicable to certain types of theistic evolution, one thing is certain in his project: the historicity of Adam is an essential Christian doctrine. Without a historical Adam the Christian faith is on shaky ground. He demonstrates that both Jesus and Paul treat Adam as a historical, not just a literary, figure. If Jesus believed and taught that there was a historical Adam though there was not one then this would be a detrimental critique of his divinity. Omniscient persons cannot believe false propositions. If Jesus believed a false proposition, then he would not be omniscient—by definition. If Jesus were not omniscient, then he would not be divine. If he were not divine, then Christianity would be false. Some might object to this, however. For example, someone affirming a kenotic theory of the incarnation might say that Jesus held false beliefs about Adam because he had emptied himself of his omniscience in the incarnation. While I typically do not find kenotic christologies to be plausible or preferrable, I suppose that this could serve as a plausible response to such claims by Craig. However, the kenoticist would need to go to great lengths to further defend their case, and—of course—many of them have. Nonetheless, I think Craig is right to harp on the importance of the historical Adam for Christian faith. If Jesus did believe in a historical Adam, which I think Craig has adequately demonstrated to be the case, then it would indeed be a very important doctrine for Christians to also believe.

Concluding Evaluation

Overall, Craig has provided us with a very interesting and provocative thesis concerning the historical Adam and human origins. While many may not be convinced of his conclusions, the burden of proof will fall to them to show where Craig has erred in his work. Nonetheless, In Quest of the Historical Adam is not a book that can be easily dismissed and waived off. Readers should take the book seriously and give serious consideration to Craig’s arguments and proposal. They don’t necessarily need to agree with him—again, I’m not sure that I do—but they at least should give the book a fair reading. If nothing else, Craig has provided the church with a great resource in this project. For suppose, for example, that young-earth creationism is someday proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be false—on both biblical and scientific grounds.[5] If this state of affairs were to obtain, then Craig’s proposal would offer Christians a still plausible way forward, one that is deeply biblical and sensitive to the findings of science—and Christians would still have the options of old-earth creationism and theistic evolution. They would not need to give up on the reliability and authority of Scripture, nor would they need to abandon their faith. In this sense, Craig has offered the church a very valuable resource. I hope others will see the value that it holds as well, even if they ultimately disagree with the book.

 


[1] https://www.reasonablefaith.org/

[2] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 7.

[3] Obviously, Strachan is mistaken on this point. Granted, he was responding to an article that Craig wrote for First Things that essentially summarized the content of his book-length project. For Strachan’s review of Craig’s article, see https://owenstrachan.substack.com/p/a-response-to-william-lane-craig?s=r.

[4] For Ortlund’s brief review of the book, as well as his response to Strachan’s critique, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD6gjdiIomA.

[5] I am not here claiming or hinting that young-earth creationism is indeed false. I’m only mentioning this as a thought experiment, a hypothetical state of affairs.

Author

  • Andrew Hollingsworth

    Andrew Hollingsworth (PhD, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy, and Online Instructional Design Specialist at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, GA. He is co-editor with R. T. Mullins of The Incarnation: Four Views (Cascade, forthcoming), editor of Theology for the Future: The Enduring Promise of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2021), and author of God in the Labyrinth: A Semiotic Approach to Christian Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2019). His research has appeared in Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie, Philosophia Christi: The Journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Irish Theological Quarterly, The Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies, The Global Anglican, and The Global Journal of Classical Theology.

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